Ange for Australia
Who better to orchestrate change within a stuttering Socceroos squad than the man responsible for pioneering the tactical revolution of the A-League?
On the day that Frank Farina was dumped as Socceroos coach in June 2005, FFA Chairman Frank Lowy questioned whether they had waited too long to make the call.
"If a change, if any, would have happened 12 months ago, I think we would have been better off but given the history of football and soccer, things happen when they happen and it has happened now and I think it should not diminish our opportunity to qualify," Lowy said.
Almost eight years later and two months out from a win or bust World Cup qualifying period for the Socceroos, Lowy finds himself in a similar situation: confidence in the incumbent appears to be sliding as fast as the Socceroos hopes of a third straight World Cup appearance and he needs to make a call - stick with Holger Osieck or gamble on new blood.
In July 2005, Lowy turned to Holland-s most successful club coach, Guus Hiddink, to steady the ship. As history would show, it was one of Lowy-s best hands. Albeit for the Round of 16 loss to Italy, tactically Hiddink was superb. But it was his understanding and respect for the Australian character that was arguably his biggest strength.
“[He is] not a coach who always demands the same system for his teams. He looks at the players, gets to know their best strengths and then decides the system,” Piet de Visser, who recommended Hiddink to Russia and Chelsea, was quoted saying.
"Australia were physically very strong and good mentally, so Guus worked on their mental side. He did not use a psychologist but did this himself though he had a very good trainer.”
Quick movement between the lines and tactical flexibility are key components to Hiddink-s style. His teams have been renowned for their ability to adapt to certain situations, with players required to fulfill various roles. They-re also compact, well structured and employ a high defensive press to restrict space and regain possession quickly.
There were certainly critics of Hiddink, like Mark Schwarzer, who could “never understand why he would name the team just hours before kick-off. He showed a lack of man-management skills and a lack of appreciation of what players need in terms of getting ready mentally and emotionally for a big match.”
Yet there were plenty of others who flourished under his guidance, like Mark Viduka, who appeared rejuvenated and on board with "mission impossible" of qualifying for Australia-s first World Cup in 32 years.
The contrasts between the coaching styles of Hiddink-s successors have been stark. Verbeek preferred the system first, players second, regardless of the personnel at his disposal.
Osieck, meanwhile, embraces pragmatism, evident in his rigid 4-4-2 formation that restricts creativity and movement between the lines, as was the case in the recent World Cup qualifier at home against Oman that resulted in an uninspired 2-2 draw.
“The team was bordering on dysfunctional,” was how former Adelaide United coach John Kosmina described the performance.
With only the top two from both groups in Asia qualifying directly for the 2014 World Cup, Australia now finds themselves in third place in Group B, one point behind Jordan and with matches against Japan (4 June, away), Jordan (11 June, home) and Iraq (18 June, home) to come.
Should Australia stay where they are, a two-legged playoff against the third-placed team from Group A (currently Iran) looms, followed by another showdown against South America-s fifth best team - possibly Chile, Venezuela or Uruguay.
Changing the captain of the ship may be a severe knee-jerk reaction given Australia still has a mathematical chance of qualifying directly for Brazil.
And with only two months to go before the final three qualifying matches, Lowy may have left his run too late. That is, of course, assuming that qualifying for the World Cup is still the priority for the FFA. If it-s not and winning the 2015 Asian Cup is, then it could be decision time for Lowy.
Should those words from 2005 be swirling around Lowy-s head and the decision is made to cut Osieck free, it just so happens there-s a local coach lurking in the background who possesses a similar mantra to Hiddink. And like the Dutchman, he-s top of his class domestically and his teams epitomise the Australian psyche.
Ange Postecoglou has had his failures - like Hiddink - but two recent A-League championships (four national titles in total, the most of any Australian domestic coach) suggest he-s embraced those lessons and as a result has developed into a much better coach.
Just like the Australian Labor Party, the Socceroos have lost their way over the years, and as it stands, Australia needs change across the board, from playing personnel to on-field structures. Postecoglou, with his proven record of regenerating teams and implementing a successful philosophy, appears a natural fit.
Where he differs from Hiddink is that he won-t be the biggest name in the dressing room. But understanding the Australian mindset is a far greater asset, as Hiddink proved.
FFA CEO David Gallop said that failing to qualify for the World Cup "wouldn't be catastrophic because the A-League has become the backbone of Australian football”.
So who better to orchestrate change within a stuttering Socceroos squad than the man responsible for pioneering the tactical revolution of the A-League?
Frank, the call is with you.